Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 1 Issue: 5

Emil’ Pain, an advisor to President Yeltsin during the first Russo-Chechen war, and then director of the Center for Ethno-Political and Regional Studies in Moscow, gave a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on 30 October in which, inter alia, he offered his prescriptions for a realistic settlement to the current deadly conflict. (A summary of his talk is available at the Carnegie website: www.ceip.org) Pain’s presentation builds upon what he wrote in an earlier paper given in late April at a conference held in Sweden, entitled “The Second Chechen War: Possible Scenarios” (in Lena Johnson and Murad Esenov, eds., Chechnya: The International Community and Strategies for Peace and Stability, Stockholm: Swedish Institute of International Affairs, 2000, pp. 21-29)

A point that Pain repeatedly underlines is that the current war is not in Russia’s national interest. To the contrary, “the assumption that Putin is bringing order and stability to center-regional relations” in Russia is flatly incorrect. “Indeed, in response to Putin’s pressure on the leaders of the republics, there has been a resurgence of national-separatist strength in the regions.” As the present conflict drags on, solidarity with the Chechen separatists “appears to be on the rise” among non-Russian nationalists, Islamic nationalists, and all “offended nationalists” in Russia. For example, Russia’s Tatars could now conclude that “if the Russian army cannot achieve victory over less than 400,000 Chechens, how can they overcome six million Tatars?” In the Volga region, ethnic Russians are already a minority in Chuvashia and are close to losing their majority in both Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The North Caucasus region is another key area where ethnic Russians are “already in the minority.” The integrity and unity of Russia are de facto being threatened by the Russian “nationalist and imperialist” policies being pursued by President Putin. The much-touted close link between the Russian state and the official Russian Orthodox Church is another factor serving to alienate non-Russians (who comprise 17% of Russia’s population).

In his Stockholm presentation, Pain subjected the arguments of those who support Russia’s involvement in the current conflict to close analysis and a blistering critique. The lesson of the 1994-1996 war to the federal authorities and to Russian society, he writes, was “that colonial methods cannot be applied to ethno-political problems, and that force cannot be used to impose one’s will on a small ethnic community, a significant part of which is prepared to take up arms to defend its interests.” Sadly, that lesson has now been unlearned. Indeed, Russia’s position is manifestly worse this time around: “Nine years of actual independence for Chechnya [1991-2000] produced a generation [of Chechens] which finds the very idea of subordination to Russia distasteful.” Russia has compounded its difficulties by defining as “terrorists” all those who oppose Chechnya’s continued existence within the Russian Federation. “With such an approach,” he concludes acidly, “the majority of the Chechen population belongs to the opposition.”

The war has also been seriously draining the Russian treasury. Pain cites an estimate by leading economist Nikolai Petrakov, made in January 2000, that the war at that time was costing Russia “$160 million a month,” and he concludes: “Russia cannot afford this.”

Pain scoffs at those Russian commentators who hold up “the so-called success of the Soviet interior forces in Ukraine and the Baltic” under Stalin following the Second World War as a model to be followed today in Chechnya. This Stalinist success story was achieved by resettling, i.e., deporting, thousands of families to Siberia and by replacing them with workers from eastern Ukraine and Russia. Pain is prepared to admit that a neo-Stalinist deportation of all Chechens to Siberia might achieve the regime’s desiderata, but, he remarks, “The Russian authorities are obviously not prepared to use the Soviet method of deportation.” Another feasible, if even more abhorrent, approach is “extermination” (i.e., genocide) of the Chechen people, and, once again, Pain is ready to admit that the “extermination [of Chechens] is possible.” However, a resort to genocide would strongly alienate the world community and would cause Russia’s image to become even “more negative” than it already is.

Another “solution” to the Chechen problem which is sometimes proposed is “a post-war economic upsurge in Chechnya and higher living standards for its population,” fueled by infusions of Russian state funds. Pain considers such a scenario to be completely unrealistic. “Post-war restoration in Chechnya,” he writes, “at the expense of the Russian taxpayer is improbable,” as ethnic Russians would strongly object to such a policy. In addition: “Even if the money is found, who can guarantee that it will not be stolen? Where will new jobs be created? Most people used to work at the oil refinery in Djohar [Grozny]. It is now completely ruined and the federal powers are doing nothing to restore it.” As if to confirm Pain’s words, an article by Evgenia Borisova, appearing in the November 21 issue of the Moscow Times, entitled “Looting, Neglect Suck Chechnya Dry,” reported that, “Oil, metals and other valuables are being spirited out of Chechnya in enormous quantities by thieves, many in federal military uniform, while a trickle of Russian government funding headed back into the region seems mostly to have gone astray…. Meanwhile, teachers, doctors and police in Chechnya have gone unpaid for months. Most hospitals are without medicines and most buildings without heat or light.”

Given this dismal situation, Russia has only one realistic alternative before it. “[T]his war will end in more or less the same way as the previous war did.” Pain believes that the present war is likely to go on for at least two or three more years but that, at some point in 2003 or early 2004, at the time of the next Russian presidential elections (scheduled for March 2004), the federal authorities will be “forced to look for a nonmilitary solution.” Pressure from the outside world will increase at this point (for example, at G-7 summits) while the Russian public will increasingly make its displeasure known over an endless war.

What will this 2003 or 2004 settlement look like? Pain believes that it will involve the establishment by Russia of a “cordon sanitaire” around Chechnya, demarcated by trace strips, minefields and heavily armed border guards. This cordon “will protect the Russian regions against inroads of terrorists from Chechnya much better than the army now fighting there over a large territory while control belongs to the few and dispersed garrisons…” The cordon will significantly diminish losses in the Russian military.

It should be noted that Pain is of the opinion that Russia stands a good chance of retaining three northern districts of Chechnya, two of them–the sparsely-populated Naursky and Shelkovsky districts–lying north of the Terek River, and the third, Nadterechny district, bordering on the Terek. These three northern districts “have always looked to Russia for historical reasons.” The fortified borders that Pain recommends are, therefore, “the frontier between Chechnya and Ingushetia, along the Terski mountain range, the River Terek and the frontier between Chechnya and Dagestan.”

Once a cordon sanitaire has been established, Pain argues, returning to an idea he first advanced in September 1994, Russia will be able to follow a policy of “one Chechnya-two systems.” The three northern districts of Chechnya would become “a zone of prosperity” which might eventually serve as a magnet drawing the rest of Chechnya back to unity with Russia. In a 4 February 2000 interview with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Pain proposed that Russia give Chechen territory lying south of the Terek River the international status of a “rebellious territory”: “This would mean that Moscow unilaterally proclaims Chechnya as a territory on which Russian laws are not functioning and surrounds it by the same border as an international one.” Chechnya would not be recognized as a subject of international law. The Transdniester region in the Republic of Moldova and Southern Cyprus are other examples of such rebellious territories.

What is one to make of Pain’s schema? It should be obvious that it represents a more intelligent plan than the mindless devastation currently being wrought by the Putin regime and the Russian military leadership, an approach which, as Pain rightly underscores, is already serving to weaken ties between Russians and non-Russians in the Volga region and in the North Caucasus, thereby genuinely threatening the integrity of the Russian Federation. Pain’s proposal, if adopted, would result in a withdrawal of all Russian forces to positions north of the Terek River (it seems doubtful that the Nadterechny District could be successfully held by Russia). The fighting would largely come to an end, as professional Russian border guards would establish a heavily fortified border.

Of course, if Pain’s plan were to be implemented (perhaps even before the year 2004), Chechnya south of the Terek River would remain a devastated region with higher than ninety percent unemployment and with a strengthening current of Islamic extremism. After two failed “colonial wars” (Pain’s apt term) Russia would indeed be well advised to leave Chechnya to its own devices. But the neighboring state of Georgia, for example, would predictably inherit certain of Russia’s problems with Chechnya. To help keep Chechnya from becoming a source of destabilization for the entire South Caucasus region, and to facilitate the security of key pipeline routes running through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, such bodies as the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE will be called upon to involve themselves in the restoration of a largely destroyed republican infrastructure, working with Chechen moderates and centrists to radically reduce unemployment and, especially, to find socially useful work for young men who today know only how to shoot. For Western Europe, ignoring the plight of Chechnya will not be a realistic option.